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Akron, Marshall to duel for first place

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

A home loss to Connecticut -- in the Huskies' first season at Division I-A -- normally would be cause for concern for the Akron Zips.

But with first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division on the line at 7 p.m. Saturday when Akron hosts Marshall, there's no time to mull over the 38-35 loss, especially considering the fact that that game doesn't count in the MAC East standings.

Sure, some confidence has been lost, and team morale has taken a dive after losing to the Huskies. But Akron (4-4 overall, 3-0 MAC East) coach Lee Owens has a feeling it won't be that way for long.

"Nothing will pick it up faster than playing against Marshall," he said.

The Thundering Herd (3-4, 2-0) knows exactly how the Zips feel.

Marshall lost two of its three non-conference games to North Carolina and Michigan and two games against Western Michigan and Toledo, both of which reside in the MAC West and thus don't count toward MAC East standings.

Nobody likes to lose, especially fans of the program, Marshall coach Bob Pruett said. But the fact that the Herd can discard all four of its losses so far is some solace.

"That's justification for not winning," he said. "But don't try to tell our crowd that. There's nothing good about losing. But (those four games) don't cost as much, because we're still in contention for the conference championship."

Enter Saturday night's contest.

Because of the way the MAC East standings are set up, it's essentially a four-team race for the crown.

Marshall and Akron are undefeated at 2-0 and 3-0. Ohio and Miami each have one loss and are at 3-1 and 2-1.

The way Pruett sees it, if the Herd loses to the Zips, Akron can waltz its way to Huntington Dec. 2.

"If we don't win, the divisional race is over," he said.

There's likely to be a lot of green and white along with Zips blue and gold in Akron Saturday night, but Owens is hoping his team can feed off that.

"That's the kind of game it's going to take to beat this Marshall team," he said. "There shouldn't be any lack of desire or lack of effort. You have to have athletes on the field."

Akron's loss to Connecticut came on a last-second Huskie field goal. Because of the caliber of athletes on the Herd's roster, Owens doesn't want to get into an offensive shoot-out this week, similar to the one it had last week.

"There's no way that's the kind of football game we want to get in to with Marshall," he said. "Their still the most skilled and talented football team in the conference."

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at sports@exponent-telegram.com

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